Day 109: My scariest PCT experience so far

Thurs. 8/8/13
27.8 miles (Miles 1620.0 – 1647.8)
Creeklet at Mile 1620 – Cold Springs Creek

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That's not snow... it's a whole lotta' hail.

Maybe it was because I was by myself, or maybe it would’ve been that scary if I’d had company… but it was the most freaked out I’ve been so far on this trip. I was almost in tears until I talked myself into realizing there wasn’t anything more I could do. I prayed hard, and repeated out loud, “God’s will…” I felt better, more at ease, but it was still scary.

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This was before it really even hit. I was already worried... and on a ridge.

It was a mountain thunderstorm, and I felt really exposed even though I was among trees. I watched the clouds roll in across the valley, and the sky get darker and darker. I heard rolling thunder, then the rain started. That quickly changed to hail and I thought about booking it the eight miles to Grider Creek where there was a footbridge. That’s when a stroke of lighning lit up hot pink just past the trees in front of me with an instant “CRACK!” I started to jog for some reason… I was panicking. I was jogging towards where it struck. I saw an opening ahead – a meadow. I didn’t want to be in the open, so I head to my left where there was a huge pine tree. It was the three-fork tree at Buckhorn Spring I read about on my map. I figured it had been there for centuries… hopefully today wasn’t its last… or it was gonna’ be mine, too. The lightning was all around me.

I hunkered down as everything I read about backcountry thunderstorms jumbled around in my head. I was below treeline, so that’s good. I was under a tree, which can be bad, but the hail was nickel size and I needed the shelter. I sat cross-legged on top of my backpack so I wasn’t on the ground, and I’d moved from the puddle I was sitting in. I was soaking wet, full of pine needles and mud, and I was getting chilled. I just sat there squishing everything that was in my pack into the wet ground, holding my sleeping pad over my head to block the hail. Another bolt of fluorescent lightning struck in front of me with a deafening crack. This time I was able to see it branch off near the ground. I just sat, prayed, and told myself I had no control over it, so I may as well try to relax.

Thankfully I’m still here and well, writing about it in my journal. Some of that lightning was just too close, and it’s straight-up scary when there’s nowhere to hide. I thought a lot about Tears and hoped G-bird was still with her. I know I wished I just had someone to talk to while I sat under that tree. I later found out from Cuddles that they were together just before the storm hit, so that was good news. I was missing Tears a lot this morning – we’d planned on hiking this section together – so when that storm hit, I was really wishing she was there! I guess in the end, that was a pretty good solo experience to have, but I think it would still be better with company to distract from fear.

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Storm moving away as I wade through slushy trails

As I hiked away from that storm, Cuddles came up behind me and we hiked another couple of hours together until we reached where we’re camped now. The rain, thunder and lightning started up again just before camp, but we were much lower in the forest, and I had company, so it wasn’t nearly as scary for round two. But we did haul buns to get here so we could set up our tents before a downpour. Everything I have is either wet or damp, but my sleeping bag and sleep clothes were dry, so I’m comfy and warm. What a day!

So, before the storms…

The morning was tricky, too. The wind shifted overnight, so I was hiking in more smoke than yesterday, and I think it was affecting my ability to climb as efficiently as I’m used to. After a couple of hours I fell back into my rhythm, though, so maybe my sluugish morning was just from a poor sleep.

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Smoke blanket hanging in the valley

The hike through Marble Mountain Wilderness was pretty. I know there were some missed views due to smoke, but the rocks were colorful, and there were flowers everywhere. Even the ones that were drying up were vibrantly colored. I hiked through a lot of overgrown shrubs and there is one that smells rank. I questioned if it might just be me that smells, but I concluded that it was indeed a plant. It wad kind of a mix between dog poo and swamp socks… anyone know what plant it I’d that reeks like that? I couldn’t pinpoint which one was to blame.

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Super colorful!

I saw some wildlife today… I saw about ten grouse that flew up just feet in front of me and made me gasp and jump about a foot straight up into the air. Dang birds! Then I rounded a corner and nearly stepped on a robin. It flew off straight down the trail frantically as I caught my breath. Next was a tiny, adorable, spotted fawn. It must have been bedded down right along the trail. He jolted up, leapt down the steep hill full of jagged rocks as big as he was, and as he somehow gracefully bolted down that rocky hillside, he loosened a couple rocks and they tumbled down alongside him. I feared he might be crushed, but I think he knew what he was doing. Then I saw a bear! I scared him, too… right up a tree. I didn’t get a great view of him, but I did see him scoot back down the tree then bound downhill and out of view. I guess I need to walk louder. These poor critters!

I bumped into a huge group of really awesome boy scouts today. They were all excited to meet a thru-hiker, and I enjoyed answering all kinds of fun PCT questions for them. They were all in such high spirits – smiling, happy, outgoing – meeting them kept me smiling for a while after I saw them. I believe it wad troop 204 – boys, of you see this and that’s wrong, let me know! Thank you for adding so many smiles and excitement my already great day!

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The awesome group of boy scouts!


Tonight I love fear… because I want to hate it. It’s not fun to be scared, but it’s one of those feelings that reminds me, without a doubt, that I’m as alive as can be, and that I want to stay that way as long as possible.

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Lake and flowers from early this morning

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Marbley cliffsides

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I miss my girls!!

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Looks like a bear didn't like this sign!

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Holy freakin' giant hail ball, Batman!

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I think it's over... ?

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

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5 thoughts on “Day 109: My scariest PCT experience so far

  1. Oh man, I always wondered what the heck you would do if you were up high with no cover during a thunderstorm. That is scary stuff…. Glad you made it!

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